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Five critical questions to ask before installing that home wind turbine

Dreaming of a green home? Already got a picture in your head of your carbon neutral, low impact house? Even if it’s just an upgraded version of your current home, that picture almost certainly includes solar panels on the roof, and/or a wind turbine situated on your land.

It’s an inspiring image. In reality, it may also be one that’s going to produce more headaches (financial and otherwise) than clean energy… unless you do your homework.

What do I need to know before choosing a solar or wind system?

Renewable energy can be a sound investment for both the planet and your pocketbook. As you’re looking at the technological options, you’ll want to make sure you’ve answered the following five questions thoroughly before laying out large sums of money on a system.

  1. What’s the best technology for my location? If you’re in the desert Southwest, your image of solar panels on the roof works; if you’re in the northern Midwest, maybe not… or, at least, not as well as you might hope. Don’t settle on a technology without investigating its potential for your location. Tools such as 3Tier’s FirstLook or Renewable Solutions’ Modern Energy Plan tool can help you with initial analyses.

  2. What’s the best location for my technology? Wind and/or solar may be great for your region, but you also need proper access to those resources on your property. Does your roof, or another area, get unobstructed sunlight? Can you build a wind turbine significantly taller than nearby trees and buildings? If you answer these questions “no,” you may want to reconsider your technology choice.

  3. How energy efficient is my home? With solar and wind systems running in the tens of thousands of dollars, you’ll want to make sure that your home or building isn’t using more energy than necessary. Weatherizing, insulating, and replacing inefficient appliances may be a necessary first step.

  4. Can I sell excess energy back to the local utility? The US Department of Energy describes net metering as a policy that “enables customers to use their own generation to offset their consumption over a billing period by allowing their electric meters to turn backwards when they generate electricity in excess of the their demand.” Currently, 42 US states, and the District of Columbia, have net metering laws in place; you can find details on your state’s program at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

  5. Are there other financial incentives for installing renewables? Probably, especially with recent federal legislation promoting green energy. Again, the DSIRE database provides information on incentives offered by the federal and state governments, as well as by utilities.

Are solar panels or a wind turbine out of reach financially at this point? Remember they’re not the only options: solar hot water, and geothermal heating and cooling are two less sexy choices that generally cost a lot less, and can get started on the path towards greening your energy use.

Image credit: supernova3688 at Flickr under a Creative Commons license